Winter blues could be a sign of a more serious disorder

It is easy to feel worn out during the holiday season with colder temperatures and endless events. But if you feel more than just worn out, you may have winter blues of a more serious nature.

Each year around Thanksgiving some people start to feel sapped of energy and just feel blah, while others feel depressed. If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), winter kicks off an annual cycle of unusually negative thoughts, increased carb cravings and an overwhelming need to sleep.

Why some people feel SAD

“As we get closer to the first day of winter on Dec. 21, the number of daylight hours shrinks and this seems to be the trigger,” explains Toby Taubenheim, MS, MHA, director of the Behavioral Health service line at Kettering Health Network. “A lack of sunlight means our brains produce less serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects our mood. Experts believe that the added hours of darkness may also adversely affect melatonin levels, a sleep-related hormone.”

Symptoms of SAD may include:

• Feeling stressed

• Irritability

• Low moods

• Increased appetite

• Social withdrawal

• Difficulty concentrating

• Weight gain.

“In most cases of SAD, the symptoms come back each year at around the same time,” Taubenheim says. “Symptoms are mild as fall advances and gradually worsen as the amount of daylight decreases.”

Experts are still not sure what causes SAD. Some researchers believe it is linked to a vitamin D deficiency. Females are more likely to suffer from SAD than males. If you have a close relative who has or had SAD, your risk of having it is greater. Additionally, those who have a history of depression are more likely to suffer from SAD than those without a history of depression.

Overcoming that SAD feeling

According to the American Psychiatric Association, increasing exposure to sunlight may help alleviate symptoms. The first line of defense is to get out and move — jog or walk, especially in the morning. Be conscious of your eating habits as well. Try to stay away from sweets and starches — they only give you a quick fix and add to weight gain. Try eating more protein-rich foods.

If symptoms are severe enough to affect daily living, light therapy may help. Sitting near a specially made “light box” for 30 to 45 minutes in the morning may provide very good results. Light boxes are available for purchase in stores or online.

For the most severe situations you should make an appointment with a psychiatrist to determine if you are suffering from depression. If that is the case, antidepressants may help raise serotonin levels to provide symptom relief. This typically works best when starting the medication at the beginning of the SAD season and then stopping the medication at springtime.